Chinese tea drink chain scraps co-branded products due to illegal commercialization of Buddhism
Published: Dec 05, 2023 07:17 PM
Photo: from VCG

Photo: from VCG

Hey Tea, a leading Chinese tea drink chain, has removed one of its latest products featuring images of ceramic Luohan and Bodhisattva sculptures, following allegations that the act, deemed a commercial promotion in the name of Buddhism, is illegal, Chinese media outlets reported on Tuesday.

The tea latte and its accompanying packaging and merchandise were launched on November 28, as a co-branded series by Hey Tea and Jingdezhen China Ceramics Museum. The co-branded products garnered a lot of attention both online and offline, but at the same time led to criticisms due to the religious elements in commercialization.

In China, multiple laws and regulations prohibit commercial promotion in the name of religion, including the "Religious Affairs Regulations," "Several Opinions on Further Addressing the Commercialization of Buddhism and Taoism," and "Measures for the Administration of Internet Religious Information Services."

Only a few days following the launch, the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau of Shenzhen, where Hey Tea is headquartered, confirmed that the bureau had held talks with the Hey Tea company over the matter, as is reported by several Chinese media outlets.

The company took the controversial items off their menu on Sunday and issued a self-reflection statement regarding the matter.

On Tuesday, the Global Times has noticed that the co-branded series has been taken off the shelves across the company's online and offline stores. The Jingdezhen China Ceramics Museum also confirmed that their collaboration with Hey Tea has ended, according to The Beijing News.

In recent years, it has become increasingly common for Chinese tea drink brands to collaborate with other brands across different industries. Among them, Hey Tea is one of the most enthusiastic tea beverage brands behind a number of co-branded products. It has collaborated with a number of brands including beauty and skincare products, personal care brands, popular film and television IPs, food brands, luxury brands, and more.

Many co-branded products have attracted significant buzz for the company, prior to their most recent attempt which landed the beverage maker in hot water. 

According to the "Religious Affairs Regulations," it is prohibited to engage in commercial promotion in the name of religion. The "Opinions on Further Addressing the Commercialization of Buddhism and Taoism" also states that it is forbidden to use the names of Buddhism for commercial promotion, and industry associations, chambers of commerce, and companies are strictly prohibited from using Buddhist or Taoist names. Similar regulations can also be found in the "Measures for the Administration of Internet Religious Information Services."

The tea drink market is faced with a dilemma of product homogeneity due to low industry barriers, according to the head of a catering association as quoted by the Nanfang Daily. Many brands have to continuously create gimmicks in their marketing, especially through launching co-branded series.

This incident is expected to serve as a reminder to the entire industry. Unrestrained co-branding needs to be put on hold, said the industry insider.

Global Times